In a thoughtful space between an impressively successful carnival and Halloween itself, our lead staff met to talk about about teaching. I always look forward to these conversations, as they are strong reminders of why the Seed exists and how fortunate we are to work in an environment that not only invites children to think and follow their interests, but also encourages teachers to do the same. Our topic this week was how to broaden current work with STEAM lessons (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) into longer, more complex studies like those that have been present at the Seed since its beginning.
We started with a reflection on this quote from John Maeda, president of Rhode Island School of Design: “A designer is someone who constructs while he thinks, someone for whom planning and making go together.” We talked about how this relates to our work at the Seed, for both teachers and children. Our focus then switched to how our students demonstrate their thinking as they participate in STEAM and other classroom work. Among the ways this happens is through class discussions, giving children permission to ask questions, offering actual experiences through which to express what they are learning, giving them time to share their thoughts, and providing real life problems where thinking is required.
Following this part of the meeting, grade level groups were given a choice of children’s literature from which to choose and then brainstorm ways the text could be a starting point for an extended STEAM project. Based on a board book about opposites, toddler teachers thought of a long list of opposites to explore toddler style. Elementary teachers came up with engineering ideas from a book related to westward expansion, such as ways to construct a covered wagon using materials like sheets, PVC pipes and connecting straws. The wheels of creative thinking were definitely spinning.
As I walked down the hall after our meeting, end-of-the-day light from the Preschool 2.5/3s room invited me in. In front of the window that looks out into their outdoor classroom area sits a small “observation table” with several glass jars and gourds on it. The jars are filled with unusual looking seed pods, bulbs sprouting roots, and an avocado seed propped up by toothpicks, just beginning to form its roots into a glass of clear water. On the window a sign reads: VENTANA/WINDOW. Right above the sign are outlines of geometric shapes with autumn leaves on the insides, sandwiched between two sheets of wax paper. Just beyond the shapes outside is their garden. Rows of determined sprouts have already pushed up through the soil.
This multi-layered view from inside to outside is what we’ve just been discussing and it’s what the Seed is all about. Our work is to set up invitations for curiosity and wonder. It’s creating a forum for observing and asking questions. Then we listen and receive children’s thinking, helping them bring their thoughts from the inside out, so others can share the ride.